A conference analyzing the intersection of social justice and the law drew a mix of lawyers, sex workers and Iraqi refugees to Yale Law School for the weekend.
Roughly 800 people — including professors, lawyers and students — gathered to swap ideas about what organizers called “rebellious lawyering” at the Law School’s 15th annual RebLaw Conference. Organizers said increased attendance at the conference, up nearly a third from the previous year, reflects a growing trend of interest in the law community toward issues such as immigration, education and prostitution.
“Public-interest issues and public-interest lawyering is a minority in law schools,” Law School Dean Harold Koh said before the conference’s first keynote speech.
Now in its 15th year, conference director Daniel Mullkoff LAW ’10 said the Law School has a strong tradition of rebellious lawyering, which he and other conference organizers said amounts to practicing law with an eye to social justice issues.
Law School students have hosted the conference since 1994; the conference features workshops and 13 panels addressing topics submitted by students. After a workshop about defending demonstrators and protesters, Ben Schenkel ’12 said lawyers have a duty to make sure “individuals do not get run over by the machinery of state power.”
Prostitutes also appeared in this year’s conference, talking in a panel called “Sex Sells, But Should We Sell Sex?” Another panel featured an Iraqi refugee discussing refugee advocacy issues, among other panelists.
“This year in particular, the majority of topics consists of issues regarding immigration and the police,” conference director Sara Edelstein LAW ’10 said. “That’s where the interests of the current Law School body lie.”
Margaret Ruthenberg-Marshall, a second-year law student at George Washington University, came for the conference but cautioned against lawyers being blinded by the cause they represent.
“You have to keep in mind the different viewpoints,” Ruthenberg-Marshall said. “Sometimes, you need to be aware that you’re not just representing a cause; you’re representing a client. And what they want might be different from the cause you seek to represent.”
The conference’s two keynote speeches were delivered Friday and Saturday nights by Van Jones LAW ’93, president of Green for All — a nonprofit that works to create jobs in the environmental sector — and Stephen Bright, visiting lecturer at the Yale Law School and president of Southern Center for Human Rights, respectively.